The Psychology Behind Meeting Overload

The Psychology Behind Meeting Overload


Imagine you’re starting your day early, fresh in the morning with a cup of coffee in your hand. After a while, you go sit at your desk, eagerly waiting for a productive day and log in at your first meeting of the day, but as the day progresses, those meetings don’t seem productive as much and become a hassle. Attending one meeting after another can be monotonous, unproductive and boring. This is what meeting overload is all about.

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Meeting Overload, and what it is?

As the name suggests, meeting overload is concerned with being a part of exaggerated and unproductive meetings for a long period. Meeting overload is when a person is indulged in meetings continuously throughout the day, causing unproductive behaviour and burnout.

Overloading such meetings can cause an imbalance in the work-life relationship of an individual, causing them to give more time to their work and less time to themselves. It can also affect the stress levels of an individual, causing them to lose interest in the activities they used to enjoy in their workplace. Meeting overload can strain cognitive resources, leading to decreased productivity and increased stress levels among employees.

“This topic is very much appropriate to the present scenario workplace, from the clinical psychological perspective it shows how excessive meetings overwhelm the cognitive resources of the employees. Research focuses on the impact of multitasking during meetings such as switching attention between tasks which can lead to cognitive overload, and ultimately lower productivity in subsequent work. Also, constant exposure to meetings in the workplace can lead to or contribute to psychological strain, leading to symptoms of burnout, such as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishments.” – Dr. Sonali Mukherjee, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

Reasons Why People Face Meeting Overload!

Howard Business Review conducted research, that highlighted reasons or pitfalls as to why people attend more meetings than they should, or why they hold more meetings than they can attend.

They highlighted a few reasons:

  • Howard’s business review, highlighted, the fear of missing out or FOMO as one of the reasons why people indulge more in meetings than they should. Most people are worried about their image as an “ideal worker” even at the cost of productivity.
  • Another reason highlighted was selfishness, and urgency. Leaders may Schedule meetings according to their convenience and their schedules, sometimes eradicating the opinions of their employees.
  • They also highlighted the need to use meetings for follow-ups. This means that instead of using meetings as a mechanism to ensure that employees made the deadline, they should consider providing rewards like cancelling them if the deadlines are met to increase productivity.
  • The mere urgency effect talks about how an individual feels productive or a sense of accomplishment when they attend it or schedule one, leading to people scheduling more than they can attend. The major urgency effect can be a temporary solution to the stress, but in the long term, it can lead to burnout.
  • Many times, people forget what was discussed in the meeting or they miss out on key points, which can cause them to attend, the same, monotonous meeting again and again. This phenomenon can be referred to as meeting amnesia. Debriefing after important points can help solve such problems.
  • While in a meeting, a person may feel that they may be the only one feeling frustrated. They might think that they are the only ones who consider this meeting pointless. But this may not be the case as most of the people might be experiencing similar Emotions. This is a word they refer to as pluralistic ignorance.

Ways to reduce meeting overload

According to Assistant Professor, Gaurav Gill, “In a 2019 survey involving 2000 people by organizational consultancy Korn Ferry, it was found that too many meetings are a distraction preventing 67% of professionals from making an impact. As Elon Musk’s famously states three rules for better meetings i.e. No large meetings, If you’re not adding value to a meeting, leave and No frequent meetings. In a recent survey of 76 companies, for example, management researchers found that employee productivity more than doubled when meetings were reduced by 40% ‘This is largely because employees felt more empowered and autonomous,’ he researchers wrote in March for Harvard Business Review.”

Meeting overload, not only hampers the productive levels of an individual but also causes financial strain and imbalance in the work-life relationship, causing them to spend extra time on work. Ways a person can reduce the effects of meeting overload;

  1. Prioritise and only attend or schedule meetings that require your input or contribute to the goals. You have set up for yourself in your work life. go over the agenda and the key points to ensure meetings alignment with your goals
  2. Introduce the concept of micro brakes or reinforcement throughout your work day. Take time for yourself in between, breathe, review your work and then move forward with other meetings.
  3. Limit the number of meetings that you have to attend in a day, giving importance to each communicative passage. Ensure that the meetings you attend have a designated timeframe and an agenda first smooth working.
  4. If you have organised a meeting, make sure to go through with the follow-up and feedback regarding the meeting and do the same if you were an attendee and go through with the feedback to be crystal clear about the work.
  5. Include “no meeting days” in your work schedule, to solely focus on growth, and not waste time on hourly long meetings, which will only cause frustration in the end.
  6. Delegate and negotiate, asking for other alternatives instead of attending the meeting, delegate attendance in the meeting and/or substituting someone else instead of you for the meeting.

Prioritising yourself and your work goals should be the ultimate goal instead of going through with your day, with just meaningless meetings one after the other. As mentioned, some tips may be helpful, but choose what suits you the best for increased productivity and growth in your work field. Don’t be afraid to speak up your mind, put forth your point, ask questions and negotiate when it comes to you and your time.

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References +
  • Calvello, M. (2023, December 15). 8 Ways to Reduce Your Team’s Meeting Overload.
  • Hinds, R. (2022, October 28). Meeting overload is a fixable problem. Harvard Business Review.
  • How to break your “meeting addiction,” according to Harvard Business Review. (2021, November 16).
  • Whillans, A. (2023, December 13). The psychology behind meeting overload. Harvard Business Review.

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